Rochdale By-Election Fallout: Andy Burnham’s Critique of Labour’s Response

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London (Parliament Politics Magazine) – Andy Burnham criticizes Labour’s handling of Rochdale by-election after candidate’s controversial remarks; calls for party reflection

Andy Burnham has stated, ‘The people of Rochdale have been let down’ by Labour’s handling of the Rochdale by-election. The Greater Manchester Mayor, expressing on BBC Radio Manchester on Thursday, also stated he was ‘stunned’ to ‘read the comments’ of his party’s candidate, Azhar Ali, who was documented making comments at a discussion suggesting Israel allowed its citizens to be killed to provide it the go-ahead to invade Gaza.

After they came to light, Labour leadership initially stood by their man, Labour’s opposition group leader on Lancashire County Council, when he was chosen to stand in the by-election.

However, on 12 February, the party retreated its support for Mr. Ali, who will still appear on the ballot paper as the Labour man due to by-election rules, suggesting the party could not change its candidate.

A Labour Party spokesperson stated, “Following new information about further comments made by Azhar Ali coming to light today, the Labour Party has withdrawn its support for Azhar Ali as our candidate in the Rochdale by-election. Keir Starmer has changed Labour so that it is unrecognizable from the party of 2019.

“We understand that these are highly unusual circumstances, but it is vital that any candidate put forward by Labour fully represents its aims and values. Since nominations have closed, Azhar Ali cannot be replaced as the candidate.”

Questioned on the situation on the ‘In The Hotseat’ program on local radio, the mayor stated: “I was stunned when I read the comments, as I have known him for 20 years. When I was in the Home Office as a minister, Azhar was an adviser to the minister and often spoke out against antisemitism and often spoke up for the Jewish community.

“I wouldn’t have appeared on a platform or provided an endorsement if I had known about them. They still feel totally out of character to me, but that’s not to make an excuse. It was right to take action and withdraw support.”

Mr. Burnham further said he would have liked there was ‘not a gap’ between the comments coming to light and the withdrawal of support. He added: “I think often in politics – again, I am not making excuses, I’m just saying how it is – the world doesn’t move as quickly as it should sometimes. In the end, the right decision was taken.”

Finally, Mr. Burnham said the ‘people of Rochdale’ were ‘let down’ by the party’s handling of the situation. He said: “This is not a time to make excuses; I think there has to be some collective severe reflection by the Labour Party.

“The people of Rochdale have been let down because they have not been given the choice of candidates they should have had at a vital by-election. It’s unprecedented; I can’t remember a similar situation in my career.

“I think it’s an unfair outcome for the people of Rochdale – they should have been entitled to expect better from the Labour Party.”

On the other hand, Mr. Ali has apologized ‘unreservedly’ for his comments. He stated in a statement: “I apologize unreservedly to the Jewish community for my comments, which were deeply offensive, ignorant, and false. Hamas’ horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone, and they are still holding hostages who must be released.

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“October 7th was the greatest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust, and Jews in the UK and across the world are living in fear of rising antisemitism. I will urgently apologize to Jewish leaders for my inexcusable comments. The Labour Party has changed unrecognizably under Keir Starmer’s leadership; he has my full support in delivering the change Britain needs.”

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.